If you can’t recognize the missteps you’ve made, it means a blindside is just around the corner. Every December/January I like to make a list of the mistakes I made in the previous year, so I never make them again. Happy New Year. Here goes…
Picking the wrong projects
I picked two big losers this year. On the recommendation of a friend and colleague I engaged with a highly creative and influential industry insider. It was sold as a tremendous opportunity to work with someone who had both run an agency and invested early/cashed out of a huge startup. The initial project was simple – help flesh out a business idea for a pitch. That one project turned into multiple all-night overseas video calls, another 3-4 presentations, a little designing and coding and a ton of strategy/research hours. When I started pressing for a signed contract and deposit, I received the “the check is in mail” speech and a request for the contract I sent on day one – classy. The other poor project choice begun as a favor for an old friend. But by wanting him to succeed, I overcommitted our team to a losing project. Sadly, I knew the project was a loser from the get-go. I assumed that if anyone could pull the project out of the gutter it would be me — not the case — time and money wasted.
Lesson learned: Pick yourself first. Trust yourself first.
Tip: Read The Icarus Deception
Too damn much Twitter
Tweetdeck, memory hog that it is, ran in the tray of my second monitor all_year_long. I stayed abreast of technology advancements, funding rounds, hires, fires and market bloopers galore. I was in the know. Truth is, most of it was junk food information, inside jokes, one upsmanship and “breaking news.” I used to view the people/brands who only use Twitter to announce/deliver information as missing the boat – I’m second guessing that for 2013. This January, I’m taking a break from my Twitter account. So if you see posts it’s likely EAT staff.
Lesson learned: Choosing what, how and when you digest information is more important than how much information you take in.
Tip: Read Present Shock
Managing cash flow
Not so much a “mistake” as a challenge that EAT had to face for the first time in 8 years. Couple a few late payers with project creep and slower-than-expected stakeholder review cycles – add in increased payroll, then tack on new office construction expenses and lo and behold, the well does in fact run dry. It’s scary and it’s a concrete reality of owning a small business.
Lesson learned: Mr. Nice Guy — he gets paid last.
Tip: Read Pricing on Purpose
Hiring slow. Firing slow.
I made two hires early in the year that weren’t a good fit. After a dreadful first month with the first hire, I wiped the slate clean and said “show me what you got.” What I got was more of the same from a person who was 95% checked out. The second hire was a great person, but busy in the process of reinventing himself and we simply didn’t have the bandwidth to help with the transition. It was unfair to keep both these people on for as long as I did. Hiring in the digital/design technology space is a finicky hydra balance beam, especially for a smaller agency. The supply and demand pendulum is pinned on the side of the employee when culture, salary, experience and location are all part of their decision tree.
Lesson learned: Be transparent. Learn with, and for, your employees, because they are your greatest asset.
Tip: Offer prospective employees a side project that they can do on their time. You’ll see how they work and self-manage. You’ll also be forced to evaluate how ready you are to hire by putting the outline of a project together.
“Fixed” things late at night
When you have a vision for how things should be, you often can’t stop until you see it realized exactly as you see it. That’s great for canvases and things you design and code all by yourself—not so great for projects that require a trusted team. Since I onboard most of the clients, I process the initial problem and proposed solutions a bit more in depth than the rest of the team. Most times my insight is spot on, but we all have to contend with those moments when we’re off our game. This year I spent too many late nights realizing my original vision in spite of the completed work, tweaking right up until launch minute. The big sin was in not circling back with the team and explaining why I made the changes I made. This likely branded me as a control freak, a creative tempest and/or both (team, my apologies).
Lesson learned: Circle back. Your goal isn’t necessarily identical to your vision.
Tip: Go a little crazy every once in awhile.
These are the confessions of a growing agency. What were your 2012 mistakes?